Camelot: Medieval Literature & Modern Fantasy
Introductory literature course.
The stories of Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere, Lancelot, and the knights of the Round Table are woven into the fabric of Western literature, from the Middle Ages to the present day. In this course, we will explore some of these narratives, tracing themes across the centuries including love and war, loyalty and revenge, enchantment and heroism. In the first half of the course, we will read selections from medieval European literature that developed and established the story of Camelot that has come down to us today. Historical, artistic, and archaeological sources will contextualize our discussions of the medieval origins of Camelot’s mythography. In the second half of the semester, we will pivot to explore modern fantasy through critical approaches to the genre of fantasy, considerations of medievalism, and close readings of the variety of media that have taken up the legend of Camelot.
Attendance & Participation
As this course is based on discussion, I expect you to participate actively in class throughout the semester. “Participating actively” looks like: contributing to conversations that we have in small groups or as a class, responding thoughtfully to questions I ask of you in class, and/or asking questions about the course material either of me or of your classmates. While your contribution to class discussion cannot be substituted, you can also boost your participation by meeting with me in office hours.
Short Writing Assignments
Every week you will be expected to complete at least one short writing assignment (SWA)—some of these will be assigned at the end of one class to be due in the next class, while others will be completed in class. These will be designed to build your skills in literary analysis, including both close reading and analytical essay-writing. For example, SWAs will include: drafting a thesis statement, generating observations about a passage from a text, and reflecting on a particular reading’s relevance to you. For a higher grade, you should complete even the assignments for classes you have missed, which will require you to communicate with me (preferably by email) about your absence to receive the assignment and set a deadline.
In order to demonstrate understanding of the course readings and concepts, you will complete up to four online quizzes (in Week 4, Week 8, Week 12, and Finals Week), outside of class through the course website. You must achieve a 90% or higher on the quiz in order to receive credit; see the table below for specifications regarding number of quizzes you must complete for a given grade.
The online quizzes will permit up to three attempts before the deadline to complete each quiz; each attempt will be timed for 20 minutes for between 15 and 25 multiple-choice and short-answer questions. The content covered by these questions will include both course readings and topics discussed in class. The questions will rotate, so you will not be asked the same questions in the same order on different attempts. Quizzes will open one week prior to the deadline and will only cover content up to that point in the class—for example, Quiz 1 will contain material only through week 3—and each quiz will only cover material introduced since the last quiz opened. I expect you to plan your schedule accordingly so that you can study and complete each quiz outside of class at a time that fits with your schedule. If something comes up that prevents you from taking the quiz during the week that it is available, please email or speak to me as soon as possible.
You will complete a 7–10-page analytical paper, drawing on secondary scholarship to discuss one of the primary texts or topics from this course, or another text/topic pertaining to Camelot in the medieval literature and/or modern fantasy. You should identify a question about the representation or conceptualization of Camelot in this text/topic, research historical contexts, and analyze the primary evidence in order to craft an argument about how your chosen representation of Camelot fits into its historical moment. Your secondary research should draw upon both the historical/semi-historical/ahistorical representation of a medieval Camelot and the theories and concepts of fantasy that we are discussing in the course.
During the first half of the course, much of your short writing will focus on activities preparing to write this essay. You will then have three deadlines to submit the complete essay: in weeks 9, 12, and 15. You are only required to turn in your essay once, at any of the deadlines, BUT if you submit your essay for one or both of the earlier deadlines, you will have the opportunity to revise your essay with my feedback and resubmit at one or both of the later deadlines to keep improving your score.
Giving you three deadlines for the essay means you have three opportunities to produce your strongest work. As such, I will not give extensions on the essay except in cases of emergencies.
* = Texts students are required to purchase. All others will be provided through the course web site.
Part I: Medieval Literature
British History Podcast, ep. 63: “King Arthur Part One” (12.5 minutes)
Geoffrey of Monmouth, selections from Historia Regum Brittanniae
Geoffrey of Monmouth, selections from Historia Regum Brittanniae, cont’d
Chrêtien de Troyes, Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart
Marie de France, Lanval
Chrêtien de Troyes, Perceval, the Story of the Grail
*Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival
Deadline to complete Quiz 1: Friday of Week 4
Morien: A Metrical Romance Rendered into English Prose from the Mediaeval Dutch
*Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
*Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, cont’d
*Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur
*Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur, cont’d
Deadline to complete Quiz 2: Friday of Week 8
Part II: Modern Fantasy
*Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889)
First essay submission deadline
*Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, cont’d
*T. H. White, The Once and Future King (1958)
*T. H. White, The Once and Future King, cont’d
Deadline to complete Quiz 3: Friday of Week 12
Second essay submission deadline
Students will vote: King Arthur (2004) OR The Last Legion (2007)
Selections from BBC’s Merlin (2008–2012)
BBC’s Merlin (2008–2012), cont’d
Students will vote: Disney’s The Sword in the Stone (1963) OR Disney Channel’s Avalon High (2010)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Final essay submission deadline: last day of class
Deadline to complete Quiz 4: Friday of Finals Week
Learning Objectives & Grading
This course will be graded based upon the following specifications, in which you must reach the expected level of proficiency across all four areas of the course in order to achieve a given grade.